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Counting?

Many people have asked me lately what is the number of days left for school. These people may be casual acquaintances that know I work in a school to our parents that walk in each morning. They are surprised when I often cannot offer the number of days left. My response is usually that I am too focused on what we have to get done today to look ahead too far.

When I reflect on this reason why I haven’t begun to count down, I know that each day is precious. Each day is an opportunity to finish a lesson, push to the next level, make that connection that is almost there, help make solid a new concept and so much more. Each day is our opportunity to have our children come together in this community and grow. Each day is an opportunity to reach another concept of learning. Each day is an opportunity.

I cannot start wishing these days away. We have the hurdle of completing our assessments. These end of year opportunities give us data to see how our efforts in targeted instruction are working for our students. The assessments are some of the measures we use. We also have the hurdle of taking advantage of the many moments still left.

We do not ignore the fact that some sport seasons have ended for the summer. Tournament weekends close the season. Dance recitals are on us. Swimming pools are opening. We know that the fireflies are starting to keep us outside later in the evening. The thoughts of long summer days without school are in the future (for those of us in traditional calendars). I know there is a buzz of all things to come.

But right now, I want to keep school going. We have too much time that we cannot lose. We have precious weeks left and I look forward to seeing all the learning that can come. Teachers have so much sitting on their plates in these last weeks. But I also see teachers truly reaping the rewards of hard work.

This morning I was in second grade classrooms while they were broken into small groups exploring their scientific wonderings about the critters in their classrooms they were observing. These rich conversations and shared learning comes from this whole year of building collaboration skills. Kindergarten students explore ideas with each other and understand the expectations of school now. They offer ideas and give each other support. They are learning to listen to each other and ask questions. Our fifth graders navigate their own curious work with such assurance and confidence. This is that time that we see the growth and enjoy the bonds that classrooms have made after a year together as a class community.

I am not going to begin counting the days yet. I will leave that for maybe the last week. Until then, let’s keep enjoying the learning and time we have together as a Joyner school family this 2016-2017 school year.

Growing

This morning was our Kindergarten Orientation. Many families walked into Joyner this morning, some for the first time. Eager faces. Nervous faces. Confident faces. Worried faces. I noticed tight holds on parents hands. I enjoyed the cell phones at the ready for pictures. And saw the fun of seeing perhaps a familiar face in the crowd.

As I prepared to move to the gym to begin the orientation, I ran into a fifth grader as he made his way back from breakfast. He asked me about what was happening. I shared with him that it was orientation. He began to smile with remembering the songs he sung five years ago to welcome new Kinders to Joyner. We had a moment of disbelief that we are preparing to say goodbye as he moves to middle school. As we parted for the day, we agreed that we would just enjoy this last month together and have fun thinking of all the memories made here.

What a great conversation to hold on to as I walked in front of our newest Joyner family members. I could speak confidently of the amazing place that Joyner is. I carried the fifth grader’s love of this space and his love for the many memories as I looked out to everyone sitting and knowing memories were about to be built.

Joyner is a special place. Having six years to watch and help children grow is a gift that elementary school gets to experience. We see these small little faces grow. We build relationships with families. What seems so overwhelming and unknown becomes so familiar it is like home.

Welcome to our newest Joyner family members. And I also am starting to prepare myself for the sweetly bitter moment of saying goodbye to our fifth graders.

Good thing we still have a month!

Celebrating our PYP Students

Tomorrow is Exhibition Day for our fifth graders at Joyner. This is a culmination of the work that happens for students in the IB Primary Years Programme. Our students truly begin to see how they take in information and consider how it connects and what then, they can do with it. Tomorrow our students will be showcasing some of learning they have experienced.

Students have read common text that provided them experiences to consider issues that are important to them. Fifth graders discussed the power of arts. They wondered what life would be without arts around them. They considered having a day without arts to showcase how much our world and Joyner is infused with art. Other students have looked into the issue of poverty. They have learned about global issues but also local poverty. I visited a fifth grade classroom the other day where students were practicing their presentations they plan to make tomorrow. Both Ms. Lewis and Mr. Del were encouraging their public speaking skills. Students provided critiques and insight on how to make the presentation more moving. The conversations about how they want to act in moving forward after learning about the issues were creative.

The amount of work that our fifth graders do in accomplishing this “final” task of the K-5 IB experience is incredible. But it is important to be said that this really is work done not just in fifth grade but has been built throughout the years at Joyner.

Our students often are those that seek solutions. Many are eager to provide support to others. Even our first grade students build capacity of giving through their visits to our aging neighbors at Mayview. Our first graders learn to read with these neighbors, interview them and just connect.

It is important work as an IB learner to see that the knowledge we gain is something that we can use to move forward into our world. I enjoy meeting Joyner alum who share the passions they are discovering in work and school. It amazes me when these students seek Joyner to complete service projects or research projects. It feels fulfilling to know that the relationships and learning that happens while at Joyner has left an imprint on students to the point that they want to come back to it.

I wish our fifth graders well tomorrow. I am thrilled with the process they have spent in this Exhibition work. And look forward to celebrating them.

Celebration of Arts on Thursday

Thursday evening will be our Spring Concert under the overhang. I love this celebration of the arts as our second grade students will begin the evening with songs and smiles. Mr. Fotta has helped the students create their props. And Ms. Moore will surely have found some great songs to share. Our third graders then showcase their hard work with the recorders. There is an incredible pride for the students who have added a rainbow of colored belts on their recorders. I always enjoy seeing the smiles of parents as they finally hear the end of this commitment the students have given to this instrument. And we will end our evening with our Gold Choir. This group of fourth and fifth graders come early mornings to practice with Ms. Moore. Their voices have grown with harmony.

I look forward to this event as we sit in the midst of amazing artwork around us under the overhang. I am so grateful to our teachers who give so much extra to create these moments to celebrate art as they do.

I look forward to enjoying this celebration and watching our children shine. See you at 6:30.

The Super Powers of Teachers

Today was really an ordinary day at Joyner. We started our day in a staff meeting. These are always amazing moments to learn together and from each other. We also took the time to pause and consider the work that we do each and every day. I shared with the staff how powerful they each are in the work they do. The staff celebrated the powers in each other as well. Some of us even dressed in our super hero mode just to bring some fun into the day.

As I look at the rest of the day that was completely filled, I am amazed at the amount of celebrations I could share through Twitter in the work of our teachers. I didn’t even realize how many times I sent a tweet of superpowers in action today. It is amazing that I can walk into classrooms and catch so many powerful things happening.

I encourage you to take a moment and check it out. But I also couldn’t quite capture it all. Ms. Lewis’ class was incredible as they made the connections and thought critically of the Uncle Sam stories and moments of patriotism in our history. Ms. Duncan talked about her students who begin to see that the world is bigger than Raleigh and share with their parents the stories and culture they learn from their Spanish teachers. Ms. Gourley celebrated the intensity and pride of our fourth graders as they prepared to dance the Tango tomorrow. Fourth grade classes were proud to share the plays they had created about a book that has moved them in so many ways. Ms. Pelletier’s class discuss the books they read and how they as authors themselves want to determine what they want to communicate with their readers. Mr. Poyer’s class prepared for action by noticing their whole body stance. Smiles on faces all around. On and on, my day was filled with the incredible work our children are engaged in at Joyner.

I know many of us see those big moments, the projects that wow us as they walk in, the reports students give, etc. But I also notice the small moments of learning that our teachers work with our students everyday on.

Thank you teachers for your superpowers that you extend to our children. And students, I am thrilled to see how you are building your own superpowers of the mind as well.

 

Learning about the Work

A group of teachers have been meeting on Tuesday mornings before school starts working together through a text on literacy instruction. The text is Who’s Doing The Work by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris. The conversations so early in the morning are truly incredible. Teachers from multiple grade levels share ideas, talk through challenges and attempt new strategies. As we learn together, the facilitators have provided conversation starters and videos to engage us further. Each week, we commit to work to try. I have enjoyed taking part in this learning to engage further students in literacy.

As you can gather from the title, the text engages us in thinking about placing the work of learning truly into the hands of children. We are challenged to give the time and focus to our children to engage in thinking. The idea of placing the work into the hands of our children seems so simple and yet for teachers who are so driven to move our children, it can feel challenging.

This past week we discussed giving time for intellectual dissonance to our students. We want to engage them into thinking deeply without quickly jumping in to rescue to take over. As the principal, I recognize that I am not spending my whole days in one classroom working with a group of children. But I do find myself in classrooms as often as possible. I often stop to talk with students, learn about what they are learning, and encourage. I realize that sometimes I don’t spend length of time with one student when watching the work in the class. So after our conversation, I decided to give the time to engage in that intellectual dissonance that we were discussing. I wanted to feel that struggle and see what happens. I visited a second grade class while they were making comparisons of fiction and non-fiction text. I noticed a student who was doing his best to not draw attention to the fact that he wasn’t getting much thinking down on his paper. As I walked over to talk, he waited to see how I was going to help and give him the answers he was seeking. I swallowed that need to rescue and instead began to ask the questions and waited for him to think through the answers. I reminded him of his courage to proceed. And after a few minutes, he began to do the work. He stepped over his nervousness of doing the wrong thing and really started to capture his thinking.

I share all of this because I know as parents, we also feel such a sense of rush to do for our children. We want to help get them to the answers. But I wonder if we allowed our children to think things through and really make those efforts, how much more they will truly learn. It takes time. It takes courage. But I believe the growth that our children will make in building their own minds will be worth the work.

Restorative Circles

Earlier this year, I wrote about the circle practice many of our classrooms are experiencing this year. I also talked about how the adults in our school use circle practice to build stronger adult relationships as well. In the last week, I have found myself sharing more about our restorative circle work with parents and others. I want to share again what this practice is about.

When you consider the idea of restoration, many times one might think of antiques receiving restoration to look new again. It is an idea of putting things together or rebuilding. I also think of the concept of doing something with care.

Circle practice at school begins with building relationships. Circle practice takes time and takes care. Our students and teachers sit together and learn about each other. Students share ideas and share about themselves. And students also listen. Through guiding questions, a teacher can begin to build a class community. Students begin to see their classmates as the individuals they are. And during this time, teachers can support conversations to problem solve issues or challenges that crop up in a classroom community.

As we prepared for our Student Led Conferences last week, I listened to students reflect on the circle time in their class. Students provided intuitive reflections on their ability to listen growing. Students enjoy hearing about each other. And students feel safe to also share. Students are learning to communicate with each other. The words and responses students have given can be powerful. Students feel a greater desire to be at school because of these stronger feelings of community.

When I navigate students who might be in conflict, I also have found myself working through the process of restorative practice. Our students learn to speak up for themselves and share their voice. We sit together to problem solve issues. I leave these conversations more hopeful that we have some strategies to put into place for everyone.

This work is not the only solution, but I see our culture of community that is so important to the fabric of Joyner continue to grow and deepen through the work of circle. The connections that students make with their peers and their teacher become even more valuable. When discussions arise at different points of the day of learning, the language they are learning in circle to listen and respond come out. When a student is in trouble, other students support with offering words to encourage or just breathe.

It is my hope that our students find an eagerness to come to school to learn because they are in a safe place where they can be heard and can be noticed. Using our skills in restorative practice, builds that sense for us all. It takes time and work and care. But I believe it is the direction that we need to take.